10 Thoughts On The Next Iron Chef – Episode 2.1

1) With Cat Cora on lesbian maternity leave, Mario Batali kinda fired, and Michael Symon still behind both of them on the depth chart — the chairman decided it was high time to fill the ranks with a new Iron Chef. The latest incarnation of this show gives us five chefs from NYC, two from California (one LA and one SF), and one each from Puerto Rico, Washington, and Philly. Since it’s the state of Washingon and not DC, we can already guess which one I hate right off the rip. Sorry Chef Garces, but your proximity to both Eagles and Phillies fans, and your clear refusal not to poison them, makes me dislike you immensely.

2) It appears the Food Network has taken over an airplane hanger in Los Angeles and converted it in to a makeshift kitchen stadium with ten stations and a judging room. Big production this season, I guess. The studio looks great and the openness of the hangar gives the production crew plenty of room to get great angles and for Alton to walk around between the stations and be less annoying and obtrusive then Ted Allan on Chopped. One complaint: to fit the “plot” of the Iron Chef world, the hangar should be in an “undisclosed location.”

3) And speaking of Chopped — I think between Chopped, Next Food Network Star, and this show, I had enough of voice-overs talking about how someone’s never seen this ingredient or someone wondering if they’ll just have time to finish. We get it. Really. When there’s a clock, it’s stressful.

4) Each challenge laid before the contestants is designed to test a skill the Chairman finds valuable in his search for an Iron Chef. The first test is Memory. In this challenge, the Chairman presents each contestant with an ingredient to which he feels the chef should have deep ties. The chefs must use the ingredient to create a family-style dish important to their past and share a story outlining its importance. The chefs themselves will be tasting each others’ dishes.

5) The chefs themselves critique each other for the first challenge. And, since No One On A Reality Show Has Ever Watched A Reality Show, none of them quite figure out until the end that it’s each chef who will pick their favorite dish. As such, the already annoying Chef Appleman chooses to lace in to everyone about their dishes and to disagree with their critiques of his food. Not surprisingly, he only garners one vote. That vote comes from the thickly-accented Chef Crenn who may or may not have any idea what’s going on at any given time and has earned the distinction of Unnecessarily Subtitled Contestant. Of course, it occurs to me that Chef Appleman’s snide comments about the other dishes might just make her feel at home. Memo to Chef Appleman: you are the proud owner of an Iron Chef loss to Michael Symon… keep your cryhole shut. Chef Garces, Philadelphian, wins this challenge. He will get a benefit in the elimination challenge.

6) The elimination challenge is Fearlessness. In this challenge, the chefs will be given ingredients that are less than appetizing. The ingredients include chicken feet, grasshoppers, jellfish, cockscombs, half-rotted tofu, unlaid eggs, duck tongue, and…. eel? I have no idea what any of this stuff is supposed to taste like (other then eel) so I’m not even going to try and rate the dishes.

7) When I saw Amanda Freitag in the commercials leading up to this show, my spider sense tingled set-up. She’s the only contestant who has appeared on other shows as a judge, has appeared on Iron Chef, and lives in NYC. She fits some pretty hardcore criteria for what the Network would want in an Iron Chef. They also gave her two lay-ups on the first show. In the awful ingredient challenge she got eel which — when compared to grasshopper, unlaid eggs, and half rotted tofu — is pretty normal. In the Memory challenge, the German got beer. Here’s the issue I see — she is a severe looking German lady and she’s displayed the personality of a redwood on Chopped. She also has the Murderin Eyes — they’re like the Crazy Eyes but with more murder.

8) The judges are Donatella Arpaia (returning from last year), Anya Fernald (who made her Iron Chef judging debut, I think, on the Michael Symon vs. Culinary Students Iron Chef battle last week), and STEINGARTEN~! Sadly, my personal favorite Andrew Knowlton is gone along with Bobby Flay. I’m not quite sure how to feel about Fernald yet but knowing she’s a self-proclaimed “sustainable food expert” leads me to believe I’m going to hate her. I’m a self-proclaimed “Internet blog expert” but it doesn’t earn me any special privileges. That said, the judges are well-selected as Steingarten and Arpaia seem to really dislike each other and Fernald was overly critical to twelve-year-old culinary students last week. For my own personal amusement, I wish they’d added Knowlton for a 4-judge panel because I’m never more entertained then when Knowlton demands someone explain their criticism and they become extremely uncomfortable.

9) Some of the judges comments were a little tough to understand. Their biggest complaint against Chef Mullen, who got half-rotted tofu, was that they couldn’t taste half-rotted tofu. He mentions that he wouldn’t particular enjoy something that tasted like rotten, so he tried to cover it up. As a judge, I think I’d appreciate this. Again, remember your criteria judges — the scores here are Taste, Presentation, and Fearlessness. It’s not Taste, Presentation, and Originality in the use of the secret ingredient.

10) Quote of the week: “These people are basically going to decide if I go or not.” Thanks for clearing that up Chef Trevino.

Extra thoughts because it was a 90-minute premiere.

11) The judges seemed less than mildly impressed with even the winning dish presented by Chef Appleman via his unlaid eggs with intestines. Steingarten didn’t love it and, as she’s wont to do, Donatella barked at someone for daring to question her opinion about something. Whereas Knowlton was able to diffuse her personality by pressing her with “tell me why”, Steingarten just presses with “you’re wrong and dumb.” Conflict of styles. Honestly, no one really jumped out at me either. The judges didn’t indicate that any of the dishes popped and there really doesn’t seem to be any clear cut winners and losers in the first challenge. Something that Top Chef, and Chopped to an extent, has visited upon in the last few years — no dish can just be “good”. Even the best dishes are “this is good, but I would have really liked to see X”. Chef Appleman won the challenge but I wouldn’t say he blew anyone away with his unlaid egg carbonara.

12) Much of the judging stuff was awkward and odd, too. I can’t put my finger on why, exactly. It almost seemed like none of the chefs really wanted it? I know that’s odd to say, but in Food Network Star — everyone looked to be ready to stab their mothers to win. All these chefs seem like they’re just kind of there. None of them really seem pumped at the idea or even seem to think they can win, minus the overconfident Chef Appleman. Chef Smith, for instance, when is told she’s going to stay, makes a face and says “I’m surprised” to the judges. Who does that?

13) The bottom two were Chef Greenspan and his grasshoppers v. Chef Crenn and her Sea Cucumbers. Uh-oh non-French guy — I don’t like your chances. Once again, proper use of bacon turns out to be the tie-breaker as Chef Greenspan is sent home. Fortunately for him, he’s already in LA and doesn’t have far to go home. He complains mildly that he never really got to show the judges what he can do. Yes, you did. You turned grasshoppers in to seasoning and it didn’t work.

14) I’m surprisingly “meh” on the premiere which is disappointing. I loved the first season of this show but there appears to be no one who stood out. Everyone just kind of seemed middle of the road. I suppose I’ll have to give it a few weeks for people to differentiate themselves between good and bad but there was no first episode ranking like after Star. I don’t know if that’s good or bad.